Apple ‘mini iPad’ rumors gain new steam

New speculation about an “iPad mini” from Apple got swirling again after a Bloomberg report that claims the company is planning a smaller, cheaper version of its tablet.

As those who follow the Apple rumor mill know, this is not a new idea. Speculation about a smaller iPad has been fairly persistent, especially since Amazon introduced its successful 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet. With Google producing its own branded 7-inch tablet, the Nexus 7, the market for smaller tablets is getting more competitive.

But Wednesday’s report, citing people “with knowledge of the plans,” gave a couple of additional hints about what Apple may be planning in order to jump into a different segment of the tablet market.

According to the article, the smaller tablet would be less expensive than the 9.7-inch version currently on the market and would not have the same high-resolution “retina display” present on the new iPad, iPhone 4S and latest MacBook Pro. The company “may announce” the tablet by October, the report said, when it is expected to refresh its iPhone line.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on the report.

Smaller tablets were once out of the question at Apple, with the company’s late co-founder Steve Jobs famously saying that any touchscreen device that size was essentially too small to use.

But analysts have pointed to two main ways that a smaller tablet could benefit Apple. Apple could certainly have a more consumption-focused tablet that plugs into its iTunes store and iCloud — a sort of larger iPod Touch that’s mostly for games, movies and music but can also get a little work done. People could get even more addicted to the iTunes and App stores if they’re able to plugging in a more portable device.

Second, as Ian Song of IDC pointed out when the new iPad hit shelves in March, the full-sized tablet is too big for many consumers in Asia, one of the company’s biggest growth markets.

Smaller tablets have their appeal as more portable devices — the “paperbacks” of the tablet world as compared to the “hardcover” iPad, Galaxy Tab 10.1 or upcoming Microsoft Surface. They slip easily into a purse or small bag and make it much easier to read or watch something while standing on a bus or train.

Apple’s success in the broader tablet market has made it hard for any single competitor to grab a significant portion of it, though the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet have seen success among book lovers. Google’s promising new tablet could also eat up this part of the market — but would face serious competition if Apple jumped into the space with a smaller tablet backed by its formidable App Store.

That would be especially true if, as Bloomberg reports, the new iPad is priced to be competitive with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, both of which retail for $199.

Related stories:

iPad mini: How much would one cost?

Samsung official: iPad mini is on its way

Apple and Proview settle over iPad name

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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